Misinfo’s missing human

From pandemics to political campaigns, online misinformation has become acute. In response, a plethora of interventions have been offered, from debunking and prebunking to fact-checking and labeling. While the technical efficacy of these “solutions” are debatable, I suggest a more fundamental failure: they rely on a humanlike caricature, a rational and ethical figure who only needs better facts to disavow misguided misinfo practices. Instead I argue that misinformation studies must incorporate a more holistic human. Drawing from the broader humanities, this article conceptualizes the actually-existing human who can be emotional, factional, and bigoted – all qualities instrumentalized and amplified by online media. Reinserting this missing figure reintroduces agency and antipathy into misinformation studies. Misinformation is not something done to innocent subjects who merely need to be educated, but is an active practice shaped by identity and sociality that reflects the contradictions and frictions intrinsic to human nature.

Read the article in Media, Culture & Society